This is the third post in a three-part series on hair. Part one focused on a whether the hair loss drug Propecia is a transsexual phenomenon. Part two focused on how posing that question is helping me in deconstructing the monolithic concept of “transition.” This part focuses on the history of my personal relationship with my hair.
My hair and I have had a troubled relationship. In elementary school there was a misunderstanding with the barber about what I wanted and I was devastated with what I got. I cried so much Supercuts gave my mom a refund and a coupon for another free haircut when my hair grew out. I made the mistake of telling a boy at school about this, and ne wrote about it in the school newspaper. Basically the headline was something to the effect of “Sissy Cries About Haircut, Gets Refund: Pathetic or Clever?”
I detest getting my hair cut to this day. I usually just let the hairstylist do whatever ne wants. When I made the now unthinkable mistake of trying to man up and enter the corporate world by applying for actuarial jobs after completing my masters degree in mathematics, I actually had to refer to an online guide to men’s hairstyles for FTMs in order to feel comfortable going to a barber shop. No joke. I didn’t know what FTM meant at the time. I was just relieved to find a resource that had so much information on how to fit in as a man.
In middle school I had fantastic hair. It was thick, and shiny, and reached my shoulders, and for a while I dyed it a deep purple. I was sort of chubby and wore baggy sweatshirts and strangers sometimes thought I was a girl. My mom tried to use these occasions to shame me into cutting my hair but I wasn’t buying it. Lots of “boys” had long hair at this time, Kurt Cobain having had just died. But somehow the other boys who had long hair themselves would tease me for looking and acting like a girl–a specific girl, in my class. Honestly, while I hated being teased, I was flattered by their suggestion. I actually felt guilty that this girl had to suffer being compared to the likes of me.
In ninth grade my parents sent me to a posh preparatory school in the hills near the San Fernando Valley, an hour’s drive away from the strawberry fields I called home. Now I was the only one with long hair. And the dress code was so restrictive I’d taken to tie-dyeing polo shirts to express myself. The prep school kids didn’t so much make fun of me for looking like a girl, but instead for looking like Mitch Kramer, the freshman played by Wiley Wiggins in Dazed and Confused. The kids on the football team (which I joined based on some god forsaken reasoning of mine) actually wouldn’t call me anything but Mitch. Around half of the signatures in my freshman yearbook read something like “You were definitely a weird guy. You sang songs for no reason and talked to yourself, but your [sic] down Mitch.” It didn’t help that I had been skipped a grade and was nearly two years younger than everyone else. One of them started a rumor that I had no pubic hair. I think I much preferred just being compared to a girl.
In that environment it wasn’t long before I cut my hair. And then within a couple weeks the strangest thing happened. I heard tell that one of the girls liked me. You know, like, liked me liked me. Nothing came of it, except I spent nearly every waking moment for the next two years silently observing her and parlaying my own identity development into little factoids and mental images of her. The fact that we both had a pair of mackerel tabby cats was taken to be evidence of our predestined cosmic reunion. (I guess I’m breaking form and abandoning my usual use of gender neutral pronouns for everyone, but a part of me just won’t let me call her nem.)
When I talk about this, I imagine it sounds normal for a thirteen-year-old boy, but I assure you it was really pathological. I mean, if you had asked me back then what she had for lunch three Tuesdays ago, sitting with whom, and at what seat, and at which table, I probably would have been able to tell you. All the while I was writing songs about how I would mutilate my body to have her. Here’s a gem from the vault: “Just to walk with you with my hand in your pocket / I’d tear my eye right out of it’s socket.” Eventually I wrote her a letter wherein I proclaimed that I would cut off my “finger” for her. I suppose it doesn’t take a Viennese psychoanalyst to read through that one.
It was actually seeing her again at our ten-year high school reunion that unlocked my repressed cross-gender longing. Unfortunately, the ensuing emotional turmoil led me to royally fuck up my marriage as I concluded that I didn’t love my wife like I loved my fantasy of this fourteen year old girl. It took me a while to realize I didn’t want her. I wanted to be her.